Lauderdale Lakes attorney Phillip J. Brutus has been suspended for one year, followed by two years' probation, following a May 4 opinion by the Florida Supreme Court for improperly disbursing in a divorce proceeding.
Brutus allegedly disbursed funds from his client's former husband to his client and to himself, less costs, without a court order or settlement agreement to indicate how those funds should have been allocated, according to Florida State Bar's formal complaint filed with the state Supreme Court. The state bar also found multiple overdrafts in Brutus' trust account in 2010.
The state bar announced the latest discipline June 29.
Brutus was admitted to the bar June 18, 1987, according to his profile on the state bar's website.
In March 2008, Brutus distributed $60,000 from the husband in the marital dissolution proceeding, funds he'd been required by a judge's order to preserve in his trust account, between himself and his client, according to the complaint. Brutus reportedly disbursed $40,000 to his client, $16,339.55 to himself for fees and the rest toward costs.
When the parties entered into a marital settlement the following September, mediation was required and Brutus' client was required to returned $12,000, according to the complaint. "When confronted by Magistrate Judge Margaret Rosenbaum concerning the unauthorized disbursement from his trust account, [Brutus] indicated he believed his client was entitled to all of the funds because of the husband’s misdeeds during the marriage and divorce proceedings," the complaint said.
"Considering that the wife was required to return some portion of the funds, respondent’s contention was clearly wrong, and demonstrates conclusively that the prior disbursement was without court authorization or legal support."
A state bar audit also determined Brutus failed to properly maintain the trust account in accordance with state bar rules, with at least three overdrafts in July and September 2010.
The state supreme court, in its opinion, did not agree with a referee’s finding that stated Brutus’ misconduct resulted from "a dishonest or selfish motive" and should be considered an aggravating factor. "Nonetheless, we conclude that his failure to maintain funds entrusted to him, together with other acts demonstrating negligence in managing his trust account, constitutes serious misconduct warranting a suspension longer than 90 days," the opinion said.